What does it take to start a drone business? At the ARC Forum session on drones in Orlando last week, we gained insights into how the drone market is shaping up. You can view these presentation at ARC Industry Forum 2017 Orlando Presentations.
According to one presenter, Todd Chase, it was a natural path for Oceaneering, a global oilfield provider, to move from just operating the underwater ROV’s now required at all offshore oil rigs, to topside monitoring with industrial-quality unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) and safety procedures that meet oil & gas industry standards.
We also learned from Steve “Lux” Luxion that the FAA is cautious about the safety implications of new regulations and how his company, ASSURE, helps industry work with the FAA to develop regulations, standards, and guidance.
While FAA Rule 107 lowered the barrier for entry for some drone applications, many industrial and commercial drone missions are far too complex for that guy who bought himself a DJI Phantom for Christmas.
Most industrial applications that use drones are associated with asset management and/or perimeter security. Equipment inspection and robotics can get quite complex when applied to pipelines, transmission lines, wind turbines, and offshore oil rigs. That said, for any particular mission, a multitude of drone platforms might be able to carry the equipment needed and execute the flight plan. Some firms are basically drone-agnostic, because the real value lies in collecting the right data. And that often depends more on proper planning, executing the mission, and processing the data than on the particular drone platform employed.
Getting FAA approvals for operating at night and beyond line of site can be tricky as they present potential hazards to people, cars, planes, and other equipment. Permits requests by competent, safety-conscious organizations for operating in rural areas are much more likely to be successful. Regulations vary around the world and evolving drone traffic control systems will need to become international standards.
While the VTOL aircraft of the past experienced many failures, today’s lightweight, multi-rotor drones powered with lithium batteries have proved more successful. The Dubai airport recently announced plans to allow drones to transport passengers to nearby locations starting in April 2017. Passengers need only select their destination on a touchscreen and the Chinese-built eHang 184 drone (pictured) will operate via a cyber-secure remote autopilot command center.
There are still plenty of obstacles for the general tasks of moving people, delivering pizzas, and doorstep delivery of consumer goods using drones…much less far more demanding industrial applications. It’s also worth mentioning that a portion of the drone marketplace focuses on using drones to protect people and assets. For example, we’ve seen extensive use of drones to both detect and intercept threats to people and facilities at major sporting events, concerts, parades, and other large public gatherings.
There is a tremendous human effort to push forward and take flight and it is fascinating to watch how technological advances translate into business opportunities.
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About the Author:
Rick performs research into and consults with clients on technology areas such as process automation, energy management, advanced process control (APC), simulation, and optimization. Over the years, Rick has provided consulting and engineering services to clients in every major industry including pharmaceutical, electric power, chemical, and oil & gas.
Prior to joining ARC, Rick was an independent engineering consultant at R2Controls since 1996. He worked for Foxboro (Invensys and now Schneider Electric) for 20 years in the process industries.